I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 5: Entwined

By S X Meagher


See Part 1

Part 7

"Wanna go for a little run with me, Punkin?"

The warm, moist breath that caressed Jamie’s ear made her think of nothing but snuggling a little tighter against the speaker, and she decided to do just that. During the night Ryan had chased her to the very edge of the bed, where she now lay on her left side, dangerously close to being pushed off. Her partner’s heavy arm was draped around her waist, and as a sign of acknowledgment of the question Jamie grasped it and tugged until Ryan’s large hand rested comfortably on her breast. Letting out a very heavy sigh, she twitched her butt against Ryan’s lap and dozed off immediately.

Hmm…what to do? What to do? Ryan thought, trying to resist the lure of Jamie’s warm embrace so she could think clearly. Two more seconds of being wrapped around her like this, and I’m gonna be out like light. And the problem with that is what? She smirked at her compulsive nature and cuddled up as tightly as she could, her own sigh rivaling Jamie’s as she joined her beloved in slumber.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"You are very bad for my discipline, you know," Ryan teased an hour later, while they were running up the first big hill on Noe.

"It’s Sunday, we don’t have to be anywhere until Mass, and we can easily go to the 11:00 if we miss the 9:30. What’s the problem, Honey?"

"No problem at all, Jamers. It’s just odd for me to be tempted to stay in bed. It’s something I am so not used to–that’s all."

Jamie cast a sidelong glance at her and asked, "You don’t mind, do you? I mean…"

Ryan saw the tentative look she was getting and reached out with a long arm to grasp the hem of her partner’s T-shirt. Pulling Jamie to a halt and immediately wrapping her in a hug, she promised, "Not only don’t I mind, it’s one of the most decadently delicious feelings in the world. Lying in bed with you in the morning is honestly the highlight of my day." She bent a little and tilted her head to offer a gentle kiss, which Jamie gladly accepted.

"I love it too," the smaller woman agreed, adding a tiny kiss of her own. "It makes me feel so warm, and safe, and loved. I feel like a little bear cub all curled up in her mother’s embrace."

Taking off again, Ryan mulled over her partner’s comments for a moment. "Bear cub, huh? Strangely enough, that feels apt. When I’m wrapped around you I feel kinda like a big brown bear protecting my precious cub."

"And when I’m cuddling you, I feel protective, too," Jamie mused. "We’re a pair, aren’t we?" She laughed gently, her eyes crinkling up in the grin that Ryan so loved.

"We are indeed," Ryan conceded, a devilish look coming over her as she grasped Jamie’s hand firmly and hung a hard right, careening down 21st Street, one of the steepest in the city. Once they started down the hill, their momentum propelled them all the way to the bottom, both women laughing riotously.

"Are you trying to kill me?" Jamie panted as they slowed to a jog when they reached the foot of the steep incline. "You know I can’t keep up with you!"

"It wasn’t up," Ryan’s innocent face insisted, "it was down. Why should that be a problem?"

"You big goof!" Her outrage was mostly faked, and the hard swat she gave to Ryan’s butt was entirely playful, but Ryan was clearly in an even more playful mood, and she began to chase Jamie back up the hill, trying to grab her for a pinch.

Halfway up, they passed a couple saying their goodnights, even though it was after eight a.m. The woman was mostly sitting in the driver’s seat of a shiny new, jade green BMW 325i convertible, with a man trying to resist being pulled into the driver’s seat--headfirst. His long frame was bent completely over, one bare foot off the ground as he struggled, and Ryan wondered how his equipment was going to avoid injury if the obviously determined woman had her way. They were kissing rather passionately, but it was apparent that this was a bit of a game, too, and Ryan gave a nod of approval to the woman. Go for it, sister, she smirked as they passed. Jamie had slowed noticeably, no longer able to maintain their chase, and as Ryan turned to check on her progress she took another look at the poor fellow who was being manhandled so effectively, nearly screaming when she realized that it was Brendan. Oh my God!!! I guess he’s not thinking of joining the priesthood!!!

With regret, Brendan wrenched himself away from his date’s clutches just as Jamie drew near. He gaped when he saw her, and she gasped aloud when he stood and she realized that he was wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. Her startled eyes went to his groin and then to his face, as his equally startled eyes went from her face to his groin, and he slapped his knees together audibly as he crossed his large hands over the main feature he did not share with his sister. As his eyes lifted again, Jamie saw the near-pleading look in their blue depths, and she mercifully looked away, trying her best to appear to be a casual jogger.

Ryan did the same, turning and running up the hill, leaving Brendan what little dignity he had left at the moment.

* * * * * * * * * * *

By the time both women reached the crest of the hill, Jamie was slapping Ryan forcefully while accusing, "I thought he didn’t have a girlfriend!"

Fending off her blows, Ryan defended herself. "I didn’t know he did, Jamie! Believe me, that was the last thing I wanted to see!"

"Jesus! I’ll never be able to look him in the eye again!"

Ryan rolled her own blue orbs dramatically, getting to the real problem. "If you had been looking in his eyes, neither one of you would be embarrassed right now."

"Well, God, Ryan! A man in boxer shorts that would wake the dead stands up right in front of me! It was kinda like a car accident! I knew I should avert my eyes, but I just couldn’t help myself!"

Ryan grimaced as she recalled, "Those shorts were wild! The last time I did his laundry, he was still wearing tighty-whities."

An impish look covered Jamie’s face as she observed, "I thought they were kinda cute, and lord knows he didn’t look like he had a thing to be ashamed of."

Ryan jabbed her fingers into her ears, and she began to hum some nonsense song loudly, not stopping until Jamie signaled that she would behave. "I prefer to think of my brothers as life-sized Ken dolls," she insisted. "In my mind they’re perfectly smooth ‘down there,’ thank you very much, and you can just keep any evidence to the contrary to yourself!" It took a second for Jamie to realize that Ryan was being totally serious, and she immediately offered an apology.

"I’m sorry, Honey. That was really insensitive of me. God, I can only imagine how I’d feel if you saw my father’s um…assets." She shivered all over, and Ryan joined her as the image of Jim’s bare ass once again lodged in her mind.

"New topic," Ryan begged, knowing this was dangerous ground. "How ‘bout this weather we’ve been having, huh? Think it’s gonna rain?"

"Okay," Jamie agreed. "Let’s just go home, take a shower, and go to church. Maybe if we pray hard enough we can be blessed with selective amnesia."

Before she could blink, Ryan was running down the street, obviously intent on trying the suggestion.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After Mass they sat at the dining room table with Conor and Martin, keeping their own counsel about the incident, when Martin commented, "I wonder why Brendan wasn’t at Mass this morning? I hope he’s not under the weather."

Having seen her brother lurking in the last pew when she returned from communion, Ryan only said, "I’ll run over and check on him. You don’t mind doing my share of the clean-up, do you, Honey?"

"Of course not," Jamie agreed immediately. "You go visit with your brother."

Martin gave her a slightly puzzled glance, thinking that the telephone was an easier means of finding out the information, but since he was happy that Ryan was so concerned about her oldest brother’s welfare, he just patted her on the shoulder and said, "If he’s not well, I’ll bring him some lunch later."

"I’m sure he’s fine, Da. Maybe he’s just taking it easy this morning." Or maybe he’s gonna hide until Jamie and I forget that we saw him in his skivvies.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Her hesitant knock was answered quickly, as if Brendan was expecting a visit. He opened the door and turned without a word, crossing the room to sink listlessly onto the sofa. "Go ahead," he muttered, sounding thoroughly defeated.

"Go ahead with what?" she asked, following him across the room to grab a straight-backed chair and straddle it.

"Grill me about her," he grumbled, preparing for the worst.

She leaned forward in the chair, balancing on two of the sturdy legs. This activity was expressly prohibited in her own house, and she indulged in the forbidden pleasure every chance she got. Her hand reached out to pat him lightly on the leg and she said, "I would never do that to you, Bren. I wanted to apologize for catching you at a bad moment."

His black hair had fallen over one eye, and he glanced over at her warily as he pushed it back in place. "Really? You’re not gonna bust my chops?"

"Why would I do that?" She was actually quite insulted that he would assume she would be so crass. "I never treat you like that."

His elbows were resting on his knees, and he dropped his head into his hands and shook it roughly. "I’m sorry, Ryan. I honestly don’t know whether I’m coming or going! I just…I just don’t know what I’m doing." He looked so forlorn that she couldn’t stay angry with him.

"That’s okay, Bren," she soothed. "Tell me what’s up." She had a very good idea of what was going on, since she had been in the same situation just a few months before, but she wanted him to tell her, if he felt comfortable doing so.

"I’m really confused about this, Ryan." He ran his hands through his hair, causing a shock of the thick black locks to fall forward again. "I just don’t know what to do."

Rocking slowly on the chair, Ryan nodded her encouragement, staying quiet to let him think.

"Have I ever told you about Maggie Reardon?"

Ryan shook her head, reminding her brother, "You’ve never talked about any girl, Brendan. For all I know, you’re gay."

"Gay?! You think I’m gay???" His look was a cross between shock and outrage, and Ryan immediately grew defensive.

"Hey! It’s not like that’s a bad thing, ya know!"

He blushed deeply as he shook his head again, feeling like he was only succeeding in making himself look like a fool to his sister. "Of course it’s not," he insisted in his best placating voice. "I just had no idea that you would think that."

"I don’t really," she conceded, "but that’s one viable explanation for why you keep your life so private."

He got up and paced across the floor, looking very serious. "I just fell into the habit when I was young," he admitted. "It’s really nice not to be the focus of teasing about my personal life, and I’ve gotten used to it. I mean, if you could have privacy, wouldn’t you want it?"

She thought about that for a moment, acknowledging that she had weathered an awful lot of teasing from her entire family throughout the years. Most of it, she had to admit, came from her almost pathological need to share her life with her family, and she had to concede that she would have gotten off a lot easier if she had been less forthcoming about things. "I see your point," she agreed. "So tell me about her, now that you’ve been outed as a straight man."

He gave her his first smile of the day, and began, "We met when we were in law school. End of fall term, first year." His pacing stilled, and his face took on a faraway look as he recalled, "I was totally gone, sis. I was certain that she was the one, and as things went on, I gave serious thought to asking her to marry me when we graduated."

Ryan’s eyes went wide at this disclosure. She had always assumed that Brendan had dates, and that he probably enjoyed the intimate company of women, but she had never seriously considered that he might have fallen in love at one point. "What happened?" she asked softly.

"We started interviewing for jobs at the beginning of our third year," he said. "After I saw her list of choices, it became clear that she was focused on returning to Chicago. That’s her home, you know."

Ryan nodded, even though she obviously had not known.

"Luckily, I had not broached the topic of marriage, so at least I didn’t look like a total fool." He chuckled mirthlessly as he kicked at an imaginary object on the rug. "She got an offer from a big firm in Chicago, and accepted it before she even told me about it."

"So she didn’t feel the way you did?" she asked gently.

"Oh, she said she did," he revealed. "She seemed to think that I’d follow her to Chicago. But that’s not my home," he said fiercely. "I loved her, but I’d been gone long enough. I couldn’t wait to get back home again." Ryan nodded, knowing that it would be virtually impossible for her to leave San Francisco permanently. "She felt the same way about her family and Chicago," he said sadly. "We must not have loved each other enough, because neither of us was willing to give up our needs for the other."

Thank you, God, for making Jamie be from the Bay Area. I know I’d follow her anywhere, but I’d be miserable living 1000 miles from my home. "So have you kept in touch?"

"No. It was too painful," he admitted, "but I’ve never met anyone I was more attracted to, Ryan. And now that she’s here…" He trailed off, clearly at a loss.

"What’s the problem, Bren? Does she live here now?"

"Yeah, she moved here a few months ago. Her firm needed a second chair for some high-profile trials they are involved in." He shook his head slowly, looking at his sister with sad blue eyes. "She’s not the same, Ryan. I mean, I’m still really attracted to her…as you could probably tell. But she’s not the same girl I fell in love with."

"She’s not a girl any longer, Bren. She’s almost 30 years old, if she’s your age. People change a lot in their twenties."

"I know, I know," he conceded. "I just…she’s not shy and quiet, and innocent like she was then." Looking like he was on the verge of tears, he declared, "She’s like a shark!"

"A shark? How do you mean that?"

"Like a high-powered attorney shark," he grumbled disdainfully. "She’s… aggressive now."

"Oooohhhh," she said knowledgeably. "She’s a top now, huh?"

"Top?" His confused mind considered the question and a slow flush crept up his cheeks, and he squeaked. "You mean uh…sexually?"

A broad smile settled on Ryan’s face as she regarded his blushing countenance. "No, Bren, I actually meant her attitude. It sounds like her job has toughened her up and made her more dominant."

Now his blush grew even fiercer, and he nodded his head quickly. "She’s dominant all right! Jesus, Ryan, I’m complaining about her, but I hardly recognize myself! She’s got me wearing these ridiculous boxer shorts, I’m running around the neighborhood almost naked just to get another kiss…I’m losing my mind!!"

The voice of experience waggled an eyebrow as she asked in a conspiratorial tone, "That’s not a bad thing, is it? It’s kinda nice to be with someone that brings out your wild side."

He gulped noticeably and agreed completely. "No…it’s ahh…kinda nice. But it’s so weird, Ryan. I don’t know if she was always like this and I didn’t notice it, or if she’s really changed that much!"

"Probably a little of both," she guessed. "People don’t generally have major personality changes in just a few years. She probably just chose a line of work that helped bring out her natural aggression."

He flopped down on the sofa again and moaned, "Don’t remind me! We always talked about doing something meaningful. But now she’s a…she’s a…" his mouth curled into a grimace as he spat out, "litigator!"

"Ohh…you poor baby." She got up from her chair and sat on the arm of the sofa, draping her arm around his slumped shoulders and giving him a hug. Ryan had always considered Brendan one of the most anti-lawyer lawyers in the world. He loved his job, and was very proud of the work he did, but he had an intense dislike that bordered on hatred for large corporate law firms and their legions of highly-paid hired guns. "What kind of law does she practice, Bren?"

"Corporate," he grumbled. "The fattest of the fat cats."

"So she what…forecloses on widows and orphans?" She was clearly teasing him now, but he wasn’t in the mood to play the game, and he answered seriously.

"No, although I’m sure she would if they told her to. She does a lot of work with the dot coms. Right now she’s working on a very big suit brought by recording artists against one of those music download sites." Ryan knew that the Bay Area had been the birthplace of the Internet start-up phenomenon, and many of the tiny companies had been catapulted into the multi-million dollar firms at their first offering of stock to the public. She was also very familiar with the MP3 music sharing sites, having availed herself of their services frequently.

"Well, that’s not so bad, Bren. It’s not like she’s stealing from the poor to give to the rich."

Her words provided little solace to her brother, and he continued to slump against the couch. "It doesn’t mean anything, Ryan. That’s my point. It’s just a very, very large paycheck to do nothing of importance! She’s so bright, and has such a good heart! It just sickens me that she’s using her brain to make a bunch of nineteen-year-old computer geeks into multi-millionaires. She could make such a difference if she would use her skills to help people."

Ryan hated to burst Brendan’s bubble, but she felt that she needed to be honest. "She can’t help people if that isn’t where her heart lies, Bren. Maybe that’s not who she is."

He got up so abruptly that he almost knocked her off the arm of the couch. Once again he started to pace around his small apartment, his arms crossed against his chest, hands shoved into his armpits. "That’s my problem! I don’t know who she is anymore. I just can’t figure it out!"

"What does she say when you talk about this stuff, Bren? Does she want to continue doing this kind of work–is she happy with her job?"

He blushed again, looking over at Ryan through a lock of black hair hanging over his eyes. "We um…don’t really talk all that much," he admitted. "She works ungodly hours, and well…you know how it is," he added, looking to her for understanding.

"I do indeed," she nodded. "But you need to stay vertical a little while and discuss these things, Brendan. If you let yourself fall in love with her again and then find out you can’t make a go of it, it’s gonna be brutal."

"It’s too late for that, Ryan," he said softly, looking like he was confessing to a homicide. "I’m already gone."

She rose from her perch and came over to give him a firm hug. "I’m happy for you, Bren. I’d love to meet her." Pulling back, but leaving her arms around his waist she warned, "You’d better bring her over for dinner soon, or you’ll never hear the end of it. Da would be devastated to know you’re this serious about someone he’s never met."

"I will, I will," he mumbled. "I’ve just been waiting until I felt more settled about the whole thing. I’ve never felt this out-of-control, Ryan."

"Bad news, bro," she regretfully informed him, a wry smirk firmly settled on her face. "That feeling lasts for a very, very long time."

* * * * * * * * * * *

After their discussion, Ryan convinced Brendan to play a round of golf with them in the afternoon. They chose a public course, and the interminable wait for nearly every shot gave them plenty of time to chat.

Brendan was very forthcoming with Jamie about his dilemma, and she provided, as usual, a very sympathetic ear. Watching them interact, Ryan mused once again about how lucky she was to have chosen such an empathetic, loving partner. All of the boys acted like Jamie was as close as kin, and Ryan spent a moment hoping that she would eventually feel that way towards Brendan’s love.

"So if I bring her to dinner, you guys will both back me up?" he asked while they were knocking the heads off some tall weeds while they waited to tee it up on the sixth hole.

"Absolutely," Jamie said. "Do you think she’ll have a hard time with the teasing?"

He laughed at that and assured her, "She comes from a big family, too, Jamie. I think she’s used to our type of humor."

"Why did she leave Chicago, Brendan? Was she forced to transfer?"

He shook his head quickly, a slight furrow settled on his forehead. "No…she was…I guess she had her heart broken," he admitted. "She was dating this guy for almost five years and finally realized that he was never going to be willing to get married, so she broke up with him. She wants to have a family, and she wouldn’t give that up for the guy."

Ryan did the math and computed that Maggie must have gone directly from Brendan to the unnamed boyfriend, since not quite six years had passed since he graduated from law school. "Is she really over him?" she asked, trying not to sound suspicious.

He pursed his lips and nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah…I think so. She says she spent the last year trying to give him a chance to change his mind, but he didn’t want kids, and he wasn’t even sure he wanted to marry." He looked down at his sister and commented, "I don’t get that!"

"I don’t either, Bren," she said, smiling at her partner. "I don’t either. They don’t call it marital bliss for nothing!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Weeks earlier, they had tried to arrange for a date for Reverend Evans to finally come for Sunday dinner, but due to scheduling conflicts, today was the first day he had been available. Jamie had been relaxed about the meeting, but as the day wore on she began to get more and more agitated. He was due to arrive at 5:30, and as the time grew near, her discomfort grew also. "You’re nervous, aren’t you?" Ryan asked with a chuckle as Jamie checked her watch for the fifth time.

She blushed a little as she agreed, holding her thumb and index finger an inch apart. "A tiny bit."

"What makes you nervous?" Ryan asked as she got up and wrapped her arms around Jamie from behind.

She clasped her hands over Ryan’s arms and turned her head just enough to kiss her cheek. "I’m not sure. He’s crazy about you, and I’m sure everyone will be nice to him. I guess it just means a lot to me to have everyone like him."

"He’s one of the most likeable men I’ve ever met," Ryan assured her. "Everyone likes your grandfather."

"I know," she said as she nodded. "It’s just important to me."

"Don’t worry, Babe. We love anyone you love. It comes with the package. Now let’s go pick him up and stop worrying about it, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed, accepting a kiss and a gentle hug that, as usual, helped calm her anxiety.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Two hours later, Charlie and Martin were regaling each other with their favorite stories while Brendan, Conor, Ryan and Jamie worked away in the kitchen, cleaning up the huge mess that was the result of Martin’s elaborate meal. "Your grandfather is a great guy," Brendan commented, giving Jamie a quick hug.

"Yeah," Conor agreed. "He hardly seems like a priest at all. He’s like a real guy."

"Well, he is a real guy," Jamie said with a laugh.

"You know what I mean," he insisted. "Father Pender’s a guy, but he doesn’t seem like a real guy. Maybe it’s because Episcopal priests can marry," he mused. "I have a hard time trusting anyone who pledges celibacy. Makes me doubt his sanity," he said in a completely serious tone.

"Conor’s spiritual leanings run very deep," Ryan joked as she snapped him on the butt with a dishtowel.

"I just can’t understand believing in a God who gives you all these fun parts and then tells you not to use them!" he maintained. "You Episcopalians have the right idea."

"No confession either, Conor," Jamie informed him.

"Jeez, why didn’t we go that way? I think I’m gonna switch."

"You don’t belong to anything," Ryan scoffed, "how can you switch?"

"Good point as usual, Sis," he nodded.

"I’m a little surprised that you two don’t go to Charlie’s church," Brendan commented.

"We’re still not locked in with the Catholics," Ryan advised, "but St. Phil’s is convenient, and it’s nice to go help out with Caitlin. We probably should formally join a church one of these days. We might well wind up Episcopalians. I’m about on my last nerve with Rome."

"Most of us are," Brendan agreed. "Luckily the Vatican doesn’t have all that much influence at the parish level."

"Well, I’d sure like to keep them out of my bedroom," Ryan grumbled.

The phone rang, and since dinner was over, Ryan was free to answer. "Hello?"

"Hey, Ryan. Niall. The boys are going to come over and play cards. You guys up for it?"

"Tonight?" she asked, her brow furrowing a bit.

"Yeah. Right now. You’re done with dinner, aren’t ya?"

"Yeah. We’re finished eating, but I can’t play. Jamie’s grandfather’s here for dinner. Let me see if the boys want to. Hold on a sec."

Holding the phone against her blouse she asked in her usual familial shorthand, "Cards?"

"Where?" Brendan asked.


"Cool," Brendan smiled.

"I’m in," Conor agreed.

Before she could pick the phone back up, Jamie placed a hand over hers and asked, "Would you like to play, Honey?"

It didn’t take long for Ryan to reply. "Yeah. I love to play with the guys, but there will be plenty of games. No big deal."

"Honey, if you want to play, go right ahead," Jamie insisted. "To tell you the truth, I’d like a little alone time with Poppa. Get a ride with the boys, and after I spend some time at Poppa’s, I’ll come join you."

"Cool." Ryan’s eyes lit up and she informed her cousin. "Count us in, Niall. Beer, chips and chairs?"

"Right-o," he replied. "See ya."

"Beer, chips and chairs?" Jamie asked, unsure of what that code meant.

"Yeah. Niall has no furniture, so we all have to bring our own chairs. This group eats chips like there’s no tomorrow, so we always bring extra. The beer is self-evident," she added with a grin.

Jamie leaned against her, pinning her to the kitchen counter. "You be careful trying to keep up with the boys, Slugger."

"You’re going to bring me home, so I don’t have to be careful," Ryan reminded her with a kiss to the tip of her nose. "I can drink myself into a stupor."

"That is an image I cannot conceive of," Jamie laughed, snuggling up for a hug.

"Why can’t I find a girl that encourages me to play cards and doesn’t mind when I drink," Conor whined. "Ryan gets all the breaks!"

"Keep one around long enough to learn her last name, and maybe you can get a break too," Ryan replied, tilting her head to give Jamie a chaste kiss. Neither woman moved, each staring lovingly into the eyes of the other, until Brendan finally had to break the mood.

"We gonna go, or make eyes at each other all night?"

"We’re going," Ryan said, waving him on. "Give me a minute to say goodbye to my girl."

"We won’t start the car," Conor advised, "I’ve only got a half tank of gas."

"Go to the Necessaries and buy the beer and chips," she suggested, naming the tiny store located at the end of their block. The proper name of the place was the Resident Store, but for some reason the O’Flaherty’s had always called it the Necessaries. "I’ll be waiting for you when you get back."

"Sure you will," Conor scoffed, bending to kiss Jamie on the top of her head. "See you later, Short Stuff."

She swatted him on the seat as he walked by, sticking out her tongue for good measure. "I’m not considered short when I’m among normal-sized people, Conor."

"Oooh…are you gonna let her talk like that about us, Ryan?"

"I’ve got no control over her mouth, Conor," Ryan replied, smiling down at her impish partner.

"Sure you do," Jamie purred, lacing her hands through Ryan’s hair as she pulled her down for a scorcher. They smiled through the kiss as they heard two sets of feet beat a hasty retreat. They had quickly learned that nothing cleared a room like a serious kiss, but they used the trick judiciously, to make sure they didn’t wear it out.

"You sure you don’t mind if I go?"

Jamie shook her head, her fine blonde tresses swaying with the movement. "Not at all. I really need to devote some quality time to Poppa, and this gives me a good opportunity. Have fun, Sweetheart, and don’t let them take all of your money."

Ryan smiled and kissed all around her face, delighting in the giggles she could always elicit. "How do you know we play for money?" she whispered.

"Because you’re O’Flahertys," Jamie whispered back, the answer obvious to even the most casual observer.

* * * * * * * * * * *

At ten o’clock Liam let Jamie in the door of the small house in Sunset. Peering through the smoke, she saw her lover sitting at a redwood table that had obviously been brought in from the back yard, the only furnished part of Niall’s home. She sat on a stackable metal chair, rocking back and forth on the two back legs, her own legs splayed wide apart for balance. Several tightly-fanned cards were tucked into her left hand, a long, lit cigar in her right. "Oh goody," Jamie muttered, causing Liam to chuckle, "cigars!"

Only Donal and Ryan were playing the current hand, and neither dark head so much as twitched in her direction, even though Jamie was certain Ryan knew she had entered the room. Her face was completely impassive, as was Donal’s, and every set of eyes in the room flicked from one to the other, waiting for the next move. A sizeable sum of money was lying on the table, most of it singles, but Jamie spotted a few tens and twenties in the pile. My God, I can’t imagine her throwing away money like this! And smoking! What else don’t I know about her?!

In front of Ryan lay a four, a six, a seven, an eight, and a nine, all hearts. Jamie was quite familiar with poker, and played seven-card stud frequently, so she assumed Ryan held a five and either a three or a ten in her hand. Donal was displaying a mess on the table, showing aces of clubs and diamonds, and not much else. Jamie assumed he had the other two aces in his hand, but if her guess about Ryan’s hand was correct, she would beat his four of a kind. Donal leveled his gaze right at Ryan and spoke, "Show ‘em."

She smirked slightly and placed two cards on the table, now displaying her complete hand: a deuce, a four, a six, a seven, an eight, a nine, and an ace–all of hearts.

With a vicious slap of his hand on the solid table, Donal jumped to his feet and cried, "God damn it! God damn it all to hell! She got me again!"

Ryan didn’t even look up, smiling serenely as she pulled the cash toward herself and started to organize it. "H’lo, Jamie," she said blithely, her words a little mumbled since she was forced to stick the rather large cigar into her mouth to gather up her loot.

Donal had stalked off to the back yard to cool off, and Jamie snuck around to his side of the table to pick up his cards. She nearly dropped them when she saw that he carried one ace and a seven of diamonds in his hand. "You lunatics were betting this kind of pot with three of a kind and a flush??!!"

Ryan’s lone raised eyebrow and her nodding head were her only answer. The pot was now neatly arranged, and she withdrew the cigar and exhaled a series of smoke rings into the air. "Cards is more about guts than luck," she declared, obviously pleased with herself.

The remaining family members all laughed at that, with Brendan correcting her. "No, Ryan, cards is all about playing with the one member of the family that doesn’t believe you can count ‘em. The rest of us have learned our lesson."

Jamie cast a suspicious glance in her partner’s direction and went down her list. "I didn’t know you smoked…I didn’t know you’d bet this kind of money…and I certainly didn’t know you could count cards. Anything else you’d like to reveal tonight?"

"I could be convinced," she agreed with a saucy grin. "Let’s go home and I’ll show you." The men all laughed at the nonplussed look on Jamie’s face, but Ryan immediately apologized. "Sorry, Babe, I’ve been with the unwashed masses too long. They’re rubbing off on me."

Jamie crossed over to her, grasping her chin to tilt her head towards the light. "You’re looking a little glassy, Love. I think your tongue has been loosened by too much beer."

"Ooohhh…" Conor began, but both women shot him a look and he kept his ribald comment to himself.

"Let’s go, Tiger," Jamie urged, pulling Ryan to her feet.

Donal stormed back into the house just as they started for the door, demanding, "Hey, no fair! You’ve got to give me a chance to get even!"

Ryan shook her head, knowing that would never happen. "What did you start with, Donal?"

"Fifty," he muttered, slightly embarrassed.

She extracted the wad from her pocket and peeled off two twenties. "Don’t bring so much money next time, pal." Jamie was amazed when the lanky young man gratefully accepted the refund and shoved it into his pocket.

"Thanks, Ryan," he said, pulling her into a hug.

"Hey, I lost money too," Conor complained.

"You were out of that last hand before I had my cards in order," she scoffed, ruffling his hair affectionately.

"I didn’t say I lost it to you," he corrected, pinching her cheek.

"Let’s go, Babe," Ryan suggested, turning to Jamie. "I have a feeling the game’s gonna start up again, and I’d rather quit while I’m ahead."

Jamie took the cigar from Ryan’s hand and extinguished it. Once it was cool, she placed it in the pocket of Ryan’s blouse, patting it gently as she said, "No smoking in my car, Love. Especially not cigars." They said their goodnights and walked the three blocks to the Boxster. "Can you really count cards?" Jamie asked as she hit the automatic lock release.

"Yeah. It’s not that hard," Ryan informed her, sliding her long body into the small car.

"On your planet, maybe not," Jamie teased, "but we earthlings can’t do that."

Ryan sighed, resting her head back against the headrest. "The boys all think it’s a math thing…but it’s not," she revealed with an adorable childlike expression on her face.

"What is it then?"

"It’s just concentration and memory," Ryan insisted. "I had a two, a four, a six, a seven, an eight, a nine, and an ace, right?"

"Right," she said, even though she had no idea of what Ryan’s cards had been.

"Donal had three aces, and I had a pretty good suspicion that’s what he had."

"But how…" Jamie began, but Ryan launched into her analysis immediately.

"There were two kings, three queens, two jacks and a ten in the upcards. Given the suits, he couldn’t have had a royal flush. There was a break in every suit, meaning he couldn’t have had a straight flush either. I knew he didn’t have four of a kind, since at least one card of every denomination was showing. That left a full house." She let out another sigh and said, "A full house was a definite possibility. I had a feeling he was working on aces, and even Donal doesn’t usually go that deep with only a pair."

Jamie’s head was reeling trying to keep up with Ryan's exposition, and she was stone cold sober. "So, how did you know he didn’t have a full house?"

"Oh, I didn’t," Ryan informed her. "Not until he raised me big at the end of the hand. Donal only bets like that if he’s got nothing, or a sure winner. A full house isn’t a sure winner, so I figured he had nothing." She shot a crooked grin at her partner and added a little wink. "They think I win because of math, but it’s at least half because they’re so darned predictable!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 8

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